Micah 3:5-12 Exegesis2017-03-22T04:46:07+00:00

Biblical Commentary

Micah 3:5-12

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SCRIPTURE: Micah 3:5-12

COMMENTARY:

THE CONTEXT:

The first verse of this book tells us that the word of Yahweh came to Micah “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”  This was in the eighth century B.C. when Assyria was the reigning superpower.

Assyria was located in Mesopotamia, far to the east and north of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom), but Assyria’s power was such that it dominated Syria (directly to the north of Israel) as well as Israel.

Jotham inherited the throne of Judah from his father, Uzziah, about 750 B.C. and reigned for about 20 years.  Uzziah had enjoyed a long and peaceful reign, but during Jotham’s reign Assyria, under Tiglath-pileser III, became quite powerful and intrusive.  Israel (the Northern Kingdom) allied itself with Aram against Assyria, a move that would ultimately spell the downfall of Israel.  While 2 Kings notes that Jotham “did that which was right in the eyes of Yahweh” (2 Kings 15:34), it also notes that he failed to remove the high places, which were centers of idol worship.

Ahaz succeeded his father, Jotham, about 730 B.C. and reigned over Judah for 16 years (2 Kings 16:2).  He is portrayed as one of Judah’s worst kings (2 Kings 16:3-4).  Ignoring the advice of Isaiah the prophet, who counseled Ahaz to remain neutral, Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me” (2 Kings 16:7).  As a result, he became a vassal of Assyria.  During the reign of Ahaz, Tiglath-pileser attacked the Northern Kingdom (Israel), killed many of its inhabitants, and deported most of the rest to Assyria, thus ending the existence of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom once and for all time.

The prophet Micah carried on his work in this turbulent period.  In the first chapter of the book of Micah, he foretold the coming of Yahweh against Israel (vv. 3-7) and Judah (vv. 8-16).  In the second chapter, he denounced the social evils prevalent in Israel/Judah.  In the third chapter, he speaks of rulers “who hate the good, and love the evil; who tear off their skin, and their flesh from off their bones” (3:2) and “prophets who lead my people astray” (3:5)—and foretells their punishment.

Nevertheless, in the midst of all these troubles, Micah also foretells days to come when faithfulness and peace would be restored in Judah (4:1-5; see also Isaiah 2:2-4).  He promised restoration after exile (4:6-13).

MICAH 3:5-7.  THUS SAYS YAHWEH CONCERNING THE PROPHETS

5Thus says Yahweh concerning the prophets who lead my people astray; for those who feed their teeth, they proclaim, “Peace!” (Hebrew: shalom) and whoever doesn’t provide for their mouths, they prepare war against him:

6“Therefore night is over you, with no vision,
and it is dark to you, that you may not divine;
and the sun will go down on the prophets,
and the day will be black over them.
7The seers (Hebrew: hozeh—one who sees) shall be disappointed,
and the diviners (Hebrew: qasam) confounded.
Yes, they shall all cover their lips;
for there is no answer from God.”

“Thus says Yahweh” (v. 5a).  Micah begins his indictment of the prophets by citing his authority.  He does not speak his own words, but instead speaks the words that Yahweh has spoken to him.  This is the role of a prophet—to serve as an intermediary between God and humankind—to speak the words that God has given rather that sharing personal wisdom.

concerning the prophets who lead my people astray (v. 5b).  Micah’s words that come from the Lord contrast decisively with the words of false prophets—prophets who fail to lead the people closer to the Lord but instead lead them astray.

Note the phrase, “my people.”  This is personal.  The people who are being led astray are the Lord’s beloved people—Micah’s beloved people.  To see “my people” injured would be like seeing one’s child injured.  To see one’s beloved suffer is to suffer yourself.  It must be heartbreaking for the Lord and Micah to see these false prophets lead the people—”my people”—astray.

for those who feed their teeth, they proclaim, ‘Peace!’ (shalom) and whoever doesn’t provide for their mouths, they prepare war against him (v. 5c).  These false prophets are like a vending machine, but one with a nasty twist.

• Put money in the slot, and you get a message of peace (shalom).  Shalom is more than the absence of warfare.  It involves the kind of tranquility that comes from knowing who you are and where you come from.  It involves the kind of prosperity that arises, not from an accumulation of material possessions, but from a thankful spirit.  It involves the kind of security that comes from the faith that God loves you and will provide for your needs.  When these prophets speak of shalom, they are like a fortune cookie promising a prosperous and happy future.

• With vending machines, if you put nothing in the coin slot, nothing happens.  But these prophets, if you give them no money, give curses rather than blessings—war instead of peace.  “To ‘preach holy war’ or ‘wage a religious campaign’ refers to the sacred preparations made in ancient Israel before undertaking a war against God’s enemies, a crusade against infidels” (Allen, 312).

These false prophets are more like Mafia thugs than religious spokespeople.  They demand tribute and promise injury if the people fail to pay.

In that culture, it was common for people to give money to prophets, just as people today give money to their church, in part, to pay the preacher.  Micah is not challenging the right of prophets to receive gifts that are freely given.  He is challenging false prophets who tailor their prophecy according to the gifts offered—and who practice thuggery if no gifts are offered or if they aren’t pleased with the gifts that they receive.

We can be sure that these prophets favor rich people who can afford generous gifts and despise poor people who cannot.  This kind of favoritism is absolutely contrary to the message of true prophets of Yahweh.  True prophets emphasize generous treatment of widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people.

Therefore night is over you, with no vision, and it is dark to you, that you may not divine; and the sun will go down on the prophets, and the day will be black over them” (v. 6).  Micah does not say that these false prophets do not possess prophetic powers.  He implies that they have the gift of prophecy and are quite capable of leading people rightly.  The problem isn’t that they do not possess the gift of prophecy, but that they have misused their gift.

Therefore, as a consequence of their treachery, the Lord will take their gift of prophecy from them—the punishment perfectly tailored to the crime.  These false prophets have enjoyed vision and light and revelation, but they will find their spiritual eyes blinded and the sun setting on their gift of prophecy.  They who have enjoyed daylight will be pitched into the darkness of night.  The blackness that will come over them is a spiritual darkness that suggests a difficult, gloomy existence.

The seers (hozeh—one who sees) shall be disappointed, and the diviners (qasam) confounded” (v. 7a).  The word “seer” (hozeh) is generally used positively in the Hebrew Scriptures, most often as a synonym for “prophet.”  The word “diviner” (qasam) is generally used negatively (Deuteronomy 18:10, 14; 1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 17:17; Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:6, 23).  Micah, of course, would be familiar with the distinction between these two words.  It seems likely that he pairs them in this verse to acknowledge the legitimate function of the prophets whom he is addressing (seers) and to highlight the illegitimate way that they have used their gifts (diviners).

Not only will these prophets lose their gift of prophecy (v. 6), but they will also be disgraced and put to shame.

Yes, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer from God” (v. 7b).  Covering the lip is associated with mourning (Ezekiel 24:17, 22) and distress (Leviticus 13:45).  “Ironically, (covering their lips) will also be a fitting sign that they have nothing to say” (Allen, 313).

MICAH 3:8.  FULL OF POWER BY THE SPIRIT OF YAHWEH

8But as for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of Yahweh,
and of judgment, and of might, (Hebrew: mis∙pat) and of might (Hebrew: geburah),
to declare to Jacob his disobedience, and to Israel his sin.

But as for me, I am full of power by the Spirit of Yahweh, and of judgment (mis∙pat), and of might”(geburah) (v. 8a).  Micah draws a sharp contrast between his status as an authentic prophet and that of the false prophets.  They have been dishonorable, and as a result will experience the waning of their powers, the dark of night, being cut off from the Lord, and disgrace.  Micah, on the other hand, is full of power, because he is filled with the spirit of the Lord.  The power that he enjoys is not personal power, but Godly power.

Micah is also filled with justice (mis∙pat).  God’s law provides specific guidance with regard to just behavior.  It requires witnesses to be honest and impartial (Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8).  It requires special consideration for widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people (Deuteronomy 24:17).  While Israel is always tempted to define its service to God by the performance of cultic duties (ritual sacrifice, Sabbath observance, etc.), the prophets keep reminding them that justice is a basic duty of the faith community (see Micah 6:8).

Justice (mis·pat) and righteousness (seda·qa) are related.  Justice involves bringing people into a right relationship with Yahweh and each other, and these right relationships produce righteous lives.  This is quite different from what the false prophets have been doing.

Micah is also filled with might (geburah).  This is a word often used for God’s might (Deuteronomy 3:24; 1 Chronicles 29:12, Job 26:14; Psalm 65:6; 66:7) and for the courage of Godly people (Judges 8:21).  Courage and might are related.  A courageous person will not fear to say what needs to be said and to do what needs to be done.

That is the case with Micah.  To take on the establishment—both civil and the religious authorities—is a frightening prospect—and that is exactly what Micah is doing here.  Just before he began addressing the prophets, he denounced the civil rulers (3:1-4).  Prophets are often killed for such presumption (1 Kings 18:13; Jeremiah 2:30; Luke 13:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; Hebrews 11:37; Revelation 16:6).  Micah is surely aware that the Lord sometimes allows his prophets to suffer, but he speaks boldly nevertheless—speaks boldly because he is filled with geburah.

to declare to Jacob his disobedience, and to Israel his sin” (v. 8b).  This is what the false prophets should have been doing.  Prophets are supposed to be truth-tellers—telling the truths that God has revealed to them.

Jacob and Israel, of course, are two different names for the same man (Genesis 32:28).  His descendants became the nation Israel.  Later, when the nation split into two, it became the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  Micah is addressing the situation in Judah, so he means his reference to Jacob and Israel to mean Judah.

In this case, people have been guilty of sin, and the false prophets should have been confronting them with that.  Instead, the false prophets have been preaching peace and prosperity (salom) to paying customers and declaring war on those who fail to line their pockets (5c).

Micah, by contrast, is doing the work of a prophet—doing the Lord’s work—boldly challenging transgression and sin.  It is unpleasant work, because prophets are seldom popular—and, as noted above, it can also be dangerous.  But the test of a true prophet is that he speaks the words that the Lord has given him—in season and out of season.

MICAH 3:9-12.  RULERS WHO ABHOR JUSTICE AND PERVERT EQUITY

9Please listen to this, you heads of the house of Jacob,
and rulers of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice (Hebrew:  mis∙pat)
        and pervert all equity (Hebrew:  yasar).
10They build up Zion with blood,
and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11Her leaders judge for bribes,
and her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets of it tell fortunes for money:
yet they lean on (Hebrew:  sa’an)Yahweh, and say,
“Isn’t Yahweh in the midst of us?
No disaster will come on us.”
12Therefore Zion for your sake will be plowed like a field,
and Jerusalem will become heaps of rubble,
and the mountain of the temple like the high places of a forest.

Please listen to this, you heads of the house of Jacob, and rulers of the house of Israel” (v. 9a).  Micah once again addresses the same rulers to whom he spoke in verses 1-4.

who abhor justice (mis∙pat) and pervert all equity” (yasar) (v. 9b).  See the above comments on verse 8a for the meaning of mis∙pat.

Yasar means that which is straight or just or right.  It can refer to what is right in God’s eyes or the people’s eyes, and it can mean upright (Baker and Carpenter 486).

Micah’s meaning is simple.  These rulers dislike what is good (justice and equity) and prefer what is evil.  Why would that be?  Why would religious men prefer evil to good?  The answer is that these evil men have power—power to impose their wills on other people—power to run roughshod over ordinary people.  In a perfect world, where justice prevails, these rulers would be constrained by just rules.  Justice and equity would take away from the power that they currently enjoy.

They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity” (v. 10).  Zion is the mountain on which Jerusalem is built.  As used here, Zion and Jerusalem are synonymous.

Jerusalem is a magnificent city, with many imposing buildings.  That is appropriate, because it is the home of the temple—and therefore (as these people understand it) the place where the Lord is present.

But, as so often happens in sophisticated cities, the ruling elite has, in many instances, accomplished its impressive achievements by exacting a pound of flesh from vulnerable people.  A builder who raises money by extorting it from the poor can ruin them.  A building built with insufficient attention to safety can result in the deaths of workers.  A foreman who treats subordinates inhumanely can literally work people to death.

Jewish law has rules designed to prevent powerful people from taking advantage of weaker people.  Micah implies that the rulers of Judah have violated the spirit of the law—and probably the letter of the law as well.

Her leaders judge for bribes, and her priests teach for a price, and her prophets of it tell fortunes for money” (v. 11a).  Priests have a duty to teach the Jewish law to the people of Israel (Leviticus 10:11).  They also have a responsibility to act as judges in disputes and to insure that their judgments are carried out (Deuteronomy 17:9-11). The law prohibits officials from distorting justice, showing partiality, or accepting bribes (Deuteronomy 16:19).

Prophets, priests, and kings are the power-elite in the Jerusalem establishment.  It is bad enough that the civil authorities (the rulers) have engaged in “pay-for-play” government.  It is far worse that the prophets and priests have done so.  Of course, it is only natural that corrupt power-brokers would collude with other power-brokers—and the religious elite were power-brokers as surely as were the civil rulers.

yet they lean on(sa’an) Yahweh, and say, ‘Isn’t Yahweh in the midst of us? No disaster will come on us'” (v. 11b).  The word sa’an means to lean on or to rely on.  These corrupt officials feel that they are secure because they are representatives of Israel, the people of God.  They also feel secure because of their association with the temple.  They say, “The temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, are these” (Jeremiah 7:4)—thinking that they must be secure inside its precincts.  But the Lord’s house has become a den of robbers (Jeremiah 7:11), so it will fall.

Therefore Zion for your sake will be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem will become heaps of rubble, and the mountain of the temple like the high places of a forest” (v. 12).  It seems only appropriate that a city built with blood and wrong (v. 10) should be brought to ruin.  Micah warns that Jerusalem will fall—that the beautiful buildings will be razed to the ground—that farmers will one day plow their fields where beautiful buildings once stood—that Mount Zion with its stunning temple will be reduced to a wooded hill.

These people would be familiar with the picture that Micah is painting.  They had seen mounds covering ruins of ancient cities long since fallen and deserted.  It would be nearly impossible for them to imagine that such a thing could happen to Jerusalem—but it will.

All of these things will happen as a direct result of the unfaithfulness of the leaders, who have led the people astray while lining their own pockets with silver.

Micah’s prophecy didn’t take place during his lifetime, but it did happen a century later.  The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, razed the temple, killed many of the inhabitants, and forced the rest into exile.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.  The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament.  The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Achtemeier, Elizabeth, New International Biblical Commentary: Minor Prophets I (Peabody, Massachusetts, 1996)

Allen, Leslie C., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976)

Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)

Barker, Kenneth L. and Bailey, Waylon, The New American Commentary: Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Vol. 20 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999)

Brown, William P., Obadiah through Malachi (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)

Kaiser, Walter C., The Preacher’s Commentary: Micah-Malachi (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992)

Simundson, Daniel J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah(Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2005)

Simundson, Daniel J., The New Interpreters Bible: Micah, Vol.VII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)

Smith, Ralph L., Word Biblical Commentary: Micah-Malachi, Vol. 32 (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1984)

Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)

Waltke, Bruce, in Baker, David; Alexander, Desmond; & Waltke, Bruce, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Vol. 23a (Downers Grove, Illinois:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1999)

Waltke, Bruce, in McComiskey, Thomas Edward (ed.), The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 1993, 1998)

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Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan